The Middle Passage according to Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano is perhaps one of the most well-known abolitionist writers and former slaves to live in America. His narrative has been digitized as a part of the Documenting the American South North American Slave Narratives collection. His vivid retelling of his trip onboard a slave ship bound for the New World illustrates the horrific and dehumanizing experience.
A lesson plan for grades 11–12 Social Studies
- learn more about the kidnapping, enslavement, and transport of African slaves to the New World via the infamous Middle Passage.
- gain insight into the horrifying conditions facing slaves throughout the ordeal.
Time required for lesson
- Computer lab or individual student computers
- Access to Olaudah Equiano’s narrative from Documenting the American South
- Notebook paper
- Divide the board into three columns. In the first column, labeled “K” (what you know) have the students brainstorm and record a list of all of the things they already know about slavery and the process of bringing slaves to the New World. Have students create this same chart on notebook paper, and have them add to it as you add to the chart on the board.
- Next, in the “W” (what you want to know) column, have students list all of the things they would like to know or the subjects on which they need more information.
- Have students access the account of Equiano. You may wish to have them start reading on page 70 of his narrative, when he begins his journey on the ship.
- After students read their documents they should list all of the things they learned in the final “L” column (representing what they learned).
- Students should share these with a partner first and then add anything to their list that they gained through collaboration.
- Finally, as a group the students help the teacher list one long “L” on the board. Again, students should add anything they learned.
You may wish to assess students based on their contributions to the class discussion. You may also choose to collect the charts for a daily participation grade or ask students to write a brief free write on the topic of the Middle Passage.
These options require additional class time and extend the reading.
- Option #1: Compare Olaudah Equiano’s account of passage to the New World with that of William Bradford’s writings about his journey.
- Option #2: Have students conduct further research on Equiano’s life. (He is an amazing figure who eventually bought his own freedom and became a well-known abolitionist in England.)
- Option #3: Students may also wish to compare Equiano’s experiences to those of other slaves or the accounts of slave traders.
Recently, video recreations of the Middle Passage have been produced; these provide vivid illustrations of the horrendous conditions endured. Teachers should preview these videos, of course, as they are graphic in portions.
- North Carolina Essential Standards
- Social Studies (2010)
United States History I
- USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
- Social Studies (2010)
North Carolina curriculum alignment
Social Studies (2003)
Grade 11–12 — African American History
- Goal 1: The learner will assess the influence of geography on the economic, political, and social development of slavery in the United States.
- Objective 1.04: Investigate the Middle Passage as one of the largest forced migrations in human history.